FP Complete now does blockchain audit services. Why have we
chosen to work in this field, and what are we aiming to
Our corporate mission is to drive the successful adoption of
better IT engineering tools and practices.
Experience shows us
again and again: quality and productivity are driven
more by these substantive improvements than
by simply deciding to try harder. Any engineer, and any team, can
be more successful using the right tools and best practices. This
was true when I built and ran Microsoft’s Productivity Tools Team
(for Windows and Office engineering), and when I was in charge of
Visual C++ and parts of Visual Studio. And it remains true today as
we see with powerful tools like Stack for Haskell, or Kubernetes,
or a wide range of corporate projects FP Complete has worked
Blockchain Now Needs
Good engineering involves a lot of pieces beyond just having a
strong algorithm paper: coding standards, continuous integration,
automated test coverage, documentation management, reproducible
cloud deployment, dependency tracking, and more. The stronger the
engineering infrastructure, the more likely you can expect a
reliable and secure result that works as intended under a wide
range of conditions—in other words, quality.
The blockchain field, including cryptocurrency, is of course
fairly new. And these technologies are of course very sensitive to
quality. Unfortunately as we have all seen, they don’t all live up
to their promises. Engineering teams, perhaps feeling the pressure
to get to market quickly, sometimes overlook valuable opportunities
to improve quality. To be blunt, a lot of blockchain implementation
work needs improvement.
We believe over the next few years the bar for engineering
excellence is going way up. People are staking their money, their
privacy, their businesses on the correct operation of these
systems. So we’ve been asking directly: what can be done to
increase the quality of engineering in the whole blockchain
More even than other open technologies, blockchain relies upon
community trust. We need to give blockchain groups a way to
earn that trust by actually doing proper work, with
an independent inspection that it’s being done right. A
cryptocurrency cannot be a hack job—and if it is done
right, users want to know. Thus the audit, an inspection
to verify that the project lives up to good engineering standards.
By making these standards clear, we give teams something specific
to shoot for and give credit to those who've got it right. For
users and investors, knowledge is power.
Months ago Cardano announced their decision to appoint us as the auditors of their
cryptocurrency engineering. This cryptocurrency has a market
capitalization over US$ 4 Billion, and they want users to know that
the system can be trusted. We’ve already provided them with interim
results which are being published, and the work is ongoing.
At the same time, we’re working on several other non-published
cryptocurrency projects, and in talks with more. So we decided it
was time to formalize the audit program and announce it
Levels of Auditing
We hope to encourage a great many blockchain and cryptocurrency
projects to seek an outside engineering audit, whether from FP
Complete or another qualified firm. We look forward to the day when
users expect to see an audit on any sensitive
cryptocurrency or blockchain work. And that means we need to
provide people with a path to get started.
Therefore we’ve chosen to offer several audit plans, using
different amounts of labor (and thus, costs) to achieve different
amounts of scrutiny and certification. For ease of understanding by
general audiences we are calling these Bronze, Silver and Gold; and
we will use “stars” to further summarize how well the project is
doing. We will be publishing the criteria for each level; obviously
the more auditing work is done, the more parts of the engineering
can be checked and potentially certified. What's crucial right now
is to get every project on the path to verifiable quality.
Auditing is not the same as a 100% inspection. Given that all
blockchain projects are moving targets, our goal is to achieve a
reasonable level of scrutiny with sampling, and report
accurately on whether each audited project appears to be living up
to a reasonable standard of engineering practices. As part of any
public certification we will report on the nature of what we’ve
inspected, what standards it met, and exceptions we’ve found.
At a basic level of scrutiny, we will focus on the tools,
development processes, and quality control processes in use: are
good engineering systems used, in line with best practices for
predictable results? At a higher level of scrutiny we will delve
much deeper into a larger percentage of the source code, tests, and
so on, greatly increasing the density of checks that can be done.
Are the software and the distributed system being built in a way
that is most likely to operate as specified? Or is the team
operating on just caffeine and hope?
Clearly, signing up for an audit is no guarantee of a passing
grade: a project may fail an audit and earn no certification at
all. In such cases, our intention is to provide the team with as
much constructive feedback as possible on how they can improve. We
hope in such cases the chance to work up to a certification will
serve as a “carrot,” an incentive to implement improvements that
would lead to a passing grade or better.
As you probably know, FP Complete offers extensive services in
FinTech software engineering, cloud engineering, and DevOps. To
avoid any conflict of interest, of course we will not issue an
audit grade for a project where we ran the engineering. In any such
case we will bring in an outside firm to compare the engineering
work with the published criteria and determine the grade.
Raising the Standards
Right now we see a wide range of engineering quality levels on
blockchain projects. Frankly, I don’t expect to see many Gold or
even Silver certifications in the short term. However, we hope to
see some. Moreover, as industry standards rise (as they must), we
expect to add further criteria, increasing the bar for each level
of certification. Even a Bronze certification in 2020 may involve
far more requirements than one in 2019 or 2018. This will be
spelled out in the published criteria for each level at any given
FP Complete does not have the capacity to audit the over 1600
cryptocurrencies already in existence, plus all of the other
blockchain projects and wallets. We certainly hope to make a dent,
but realistically other companies will need to enter this space as
well. We will welcome them to use criteria modeled on our own, or
to create their own lists of what constitutes proper engineering.
What’s important is that they not lower the bar, but raise the bar,
for quality in this industry. The blockchain engineering audit
field needs to grow rapidly for the public good, and we will
promote its growth in a constructive and timely manner.
Note that a technology audit will never be the same thing as a
financial audit. Technical excellence doesn’t mean that a
particular cryptocurrency is a good investment, or that a
particular blockchain is suited for some particular use. But it
should mean that the implementation team is following best
practices to bring their implementation in line with what’s been
described and specified.
We hope the day will come when consumers of any blockchain will
ask: where’s the audit? It’s long been expected in the stock
market, and crypto users deserve no less. Home and business users
alike deserve to know if they can trust the technology on which
they are staking so much. By demanding evidence of excellence, we
give providers the backing they need to invest more in quality,
safety, and security.
For further reading
How to select the right level of QA
for your project
Best practices: multifaceted
Best practices: DevOps priorities
DevOps to prepare for a blockchain world
From my colleague Steve Bogdan: getting past IT operations into
From my colleague Niklas Hambüchen: the Haskell language and cryptocurrencies
our blockchain auditing services
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